Online Safety, Cyber Security & Digital Literacy
This article looks at online safety, cyber security and digital literacy. It explains the relationship between each topic, and describes the national qualifications in each area available to learners across Scotland.
The need for online safety is widely understood and universally accepted. That wasn’t always the case. But online users now accept the need to protect themselves and avoid certain behaviours.
The wider problem of cyber security is not so well understood. Recent cases, such as the theft of £20 million from UK bank accounts and the release of personal information from the Ashley Madison website, have raised it in the public’s consciousness. The costs of these cyber-attacks are not only financial. In the Ashley Madison case, at least two people committed suicide as a result of the disclosures.
Cyber security is broader than online safety. Although personal security is part of cyber security (in this context, personal safety is sometimes referred to as “cyber hygiene”), it also embraces the security of groups, businesses, organisations and nations (often referred to as their “cyber resilience”). As more and more of what we do is digitalized the importance of cyber resilience will rise.As more and more of what we do is digitalized, a process that will be hastened by the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), the importance of cyber resilience will rise, and become an issue for small and medium size enterprises as well as large organisations. Popular media is catching on. The surprising popularity of USA Network’s Mr Robot (essentially a ten part TV series about cyber security and hacking) illustrates the growing public interest in cyber security.
Both online safety and cyber security are aspects of digital literacy, which covers a broad range of digital knowledge and skills. The relationship between online safety, cyber security and digital literacy is illustrated in the diagram below.
The traditional literacies (reading, writing and counting) are still vital but they are being supplemented by new literacies in information science, networking, and social media. The need to evaluate sources of information has never been greater; the emergence of cloud computing has made network literacy vital; and the ability to use social media is an essential 21st Century skill. Informed citizens also need these skills to participate in modern societies – not only for day-to-day survival but also for democratic reasons. The on-going debate between national security and personal privacy, which are often in opposition, can only be democratically addressed by an informed and technologically literate electorate.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) offers qualifications in online safety, cyber security and digital literacy. Qualifications are made of National Units, which are combined into National Qualifications. “Cyber security” and “network literacy” are essential 21st Century skills for Scotland’s learners.Some Units are stand-alone – designed to be delivered on their own. Other Units are designed to be combined with others into qualifications. All Units (and qualifications) are levelled using the Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework (SCQF), which divides qualifications into 12 levels.
In 2007, SQA was the first UK awarding body to develop a national qualification in Internet Safety (at SCQF Level 4). The Unit focused on personal online safety and proved to be very popular in Scottish schools and colleges. Earlier this year, SQA developed a National Unit in Cyber Security Fundamentals (SCQF Level 4). This non-specialist Unit covers the basics of computer security for individuals, groups, businesses and nations. In time, cyber security may come to replace (personal) online safety in the curriculum.
National Progression Awards
SQA has recently developed the first school-based national qualification in cyber security across Europe, which has attracted a lot of media attention. The qualification is entitled NPA in Cyber Security and is available at SCQF Levels 4, 5 and 6. Each level comprises three National Units.
- Data Security
- Digital Forensics
- Ethical Hacking.
A key objective when developing these new qualifications was the need to produce a “skills pipeline” to supply universities with students who wanted a career in cyber security to help fill the estimated two million global job vacancies across this field in 2017.
We recently revamped the NPA in Digital Literacy (SCQF Level 3) to bring it up to date and focus on the essential skills for participating in contemporary society.
New centuries require new skills. Twenty years ago terms such as “cyber security” and “network literacy” were unheard of. Today they’re essential 21st Century skills for Scotland’s learners.
The views expressed in this article are my own and not necessarily the views of SQA.